tips from a barista

‎”We don’t have flavored creamer because this isn’t a waiting room at JiffyLube.”

latte art

I discovered the site, Bitter Barista, this morning and it had me laughing out loud while I drank my coffee. I agree with almost every statement, but I am happy to say I have a much better attitude about working in a coffee shop than the author. I thought I’d provide some (gently put) insider knowledge to assist you in your next coffee shop order:

  1. A Macchiato, if made correctly, is a shot or two of espresso with a small amount of foam, typically served in a short ceramic cup. It is not, as Starbucks would have you believe, a double shot latte with caramel. It’s not possible to make a real macchiato in a 16 oz cup (unless you add 8+ shots of espresso, which may make you go into cardiac arrest). 
  2. If you order an Extra Hot Soy Latte, you’ll either get scalded soy milk or a regular temperature latte. Soy milk scalds at around 140 degrees. It won’t taste very good, but we’ll do it if you insist.
  3. Soy Milk doesn’t foam well, partly because it can’t be steamed for as long. If you ask for a Soy Milk Cappuccino, you’ll get either a wet cappuccino (less foam) or a latte.
  4. More foam is created as you reach maximum milk temperature (above 150 degrees). If you ask for an Extra Hot, No Foam Latte, know that you’re going against nature.
  5. To make enough foam for a Dry Cappuccino (lots of foam, very little liquid milk), the milk must be steamed first, then tapped against the counter and allowed to sit so that  the foamy air bubbles can rise to the top of the pitcher. Cappuccinos take extra time to complete, but they’re worth it. It pays to be patient.
  6. We don’t offer flavored coffee or flavored creamer because they’re gross. High quality coffee has layers of flavor notes, like wine, that come together to create a delicious, complex taste experience. We can put flavor syrup in your drink, though, so please don’t act too disappointed.
  7. Some customers ask how old the drip coffee is. I understand the concern, but the shop is typically busy enough to go through coffee in an hour or less. If you need your coffee fresh, please ask the question before you pay, then order a different drink if you’re in a hurry. We try our best to keep up with coffee demand, but if we run out or need to make a new batch, it takes almost ten minutes to complete the brewing cycle.

I really do think it’s the job of the barista, and the coffee shop, to accommodate as many specifications as possible while maintaining quality. I’m more amused than annoyed when customers make their drinks incredibly complicated or ask for things that aren’t possible. But it’d help to have basic coffee information dispersed to the wider, coffee-drinking audience. A good barista cares about both quality and efficiency, and sometimes has to strike a balance between the two to keep things running smoothly. I like my job and I like customer interaction (for the most part), so please don’t scowl at me if things don’t go your way. I really want to help you.

I’m not a seasoned veteran of the coffee shop, so if you have more advice (or need to correct some of my statements), please feel free to do so in the comments section. 

*photo source: Coffee Art

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7 thoughts on “tips from a barista

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, I enjoyed reading it!
    But i am confused about Tip#4. I thought that a very hot milk (close to boiling temperature) does not foam well and the colder it is (below 50°C) the more soupy-like foam it creates, which contradicts with Tip#4. Can you please clarify this more (and correct me if i am wrong)?

    1. You’re right that hot milk doesn’t foam well. But the best foam is established if you start with very cold milk and slowly work your way up, so cappuccino milk is often steamed a bit hotter than latte milk because it’s a slower process to achieve as much foam as possible. So if someone orders a skim, no foam latte in particular (skim milk foams very quickly), the longer you steam the milk, the more foam you create.

  2. I love this, not because I’m a coffee connoisseur, but because it gives me a peak into the life of a barista =) I work at the front desk of a hotel, and I’m amazed that there are certain things that people do over and OVER, and that they don’t realize they’re just one of many (and that they’re being ridiculous). It’s funny to think that probably every profession has their list of annoyances. Have you seen the website http://notalwaysright.com/?

  3. Why do people order their drinks “extra hot”? Do they have some kind of unnatural coating in their mouth that allows them to drink it without burning themselves? …it only makes sense if they’re not going to drink it right away, in which case, I applaud their willpower to not take a sip immediately…

    1. It seems about 50/50 where I work. Some have to walk to their offices and won’t drink it until then, but others take great pride in giving a particular temperature and talking about how much burn their mouths can withstand.

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